Emergency interventions in the arid and semi-arid areas of northern Kenya
by Mike Wekesa, Irene Karani and Sheila Waruhiu, Acacia Consultants November 2006

This article is based on an external evaluation of the October 2004–September 2005 CORDAID Drought Emergency Programme (DEP) in Mandera, Turkana, Marsabit and Samburu districts of northern Kenya. The Programme was funded by ECHO, CORDAID and Caritas Switzerland. It was implemented in response to the drought which affected most districts of northern Kenya from early 2004. Its immediate objective was to enable target populations to benefit from improved access to food, water and health services and to enhance their capacity to maintain their breeding animals. This article discusses the findings and lessons learnt from the evaluation. These findings are applicable in other drought-related emergency programmes worldwide.



Causes and exacerbating factors

The emergency had several causes and exacerbating factors. First, Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands have experienced increasingly frequent droughts in the last two decades. This means that households in these areas have not had sufficient time to recover from previous droughts before the next one hits, increasing their vulnerability to food insecurity and poverty. Second, conflict in these areas exacerbated the effect of the drought, disrupting lives and livelihoods and preventing external assistance from reaching affected populations at the right time.


The relevance of the DEP interventions

The DEP interventions were in three main sectors – water, health/nutrition and livestock/food security. These were relevant to the needs of the vulnerable populations for several reasons. First, livestock forms the basis of the livelihoods of pastoralists. Drought has a direct effect on the performance of the livestock sector, and hence on the food and livelihood security of most pastoralists. The provision of adequate water, and ensuring that sufficient livestock assets remain, was thus crucial.

Second, inadequate pasture and water for livestock led men to migrate to other regions in search of better pastures. Women, children and the elderly remained behind, with little means of survival. Food availability and access sharply declined, and drinking water became scarce. Inadequate food undermined the nutritional and health status of most households, while water scarcity often led to unhygienic conditions, resulting in water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and typhoid. The lack of food, combined with compromised health conditions, led to malnutrition and increased morbidity and mortality, especially among children under five years of age, the elderly, the sick and HIV/AIDS patients. Consequently, targeting the livestock/food security, health/nutrition and water sectors during the drought emergency was relevant and appropriate, and this strategy could be replicated in other emergencies in pastoral areas.


Immunization of children in Marsabit district

Working through partners

CORDAID’s implementation strategy, both for emergency response and for long-term structural development, is to work through implementing partners. There are several advantages and disadvantages in doing this, and these were in evidence in the programme under review. The advantages include:

  1. Partners have a local presence in the area of operation.
  2. Partners have an on-going relationship with communities, thereby making the mobilisation of local resources for implementation easier.
  3. Partners have indigenous technical knowledge and understanding of local conditions, local culture and local coping strategies.
  4. The staff of implementing partners are often local, and therefore face no language difficulties.
  5. Partners have developed networking and collaborative relationships with other agencies and organisations. These relationships can be very useful in implementing emergency interventions.
  6. Local people are more willing to trust implementing partners, especially because most of the community-based organisations and local NGOs are established by people from the same location.
  7. It is less costly from a financial and administrative point of view for CORDAID to work through partners.
  8. Most implementing partners have considerable experience in doing community-based interventions, and therefore have an advantage in working with the local governance structures to implement interventions.

Some disadvantages of working with partners include:

  1. The lead agency may not control the final outcomes of interventions.
  2. Issues of quality control arise in implementation.
  3. Some partners may not follow reporting and financial procedures.
  4. The lead agency may miss important lessons in implementation because it does not have a presence on the ground.
  5. The implementing partner may develop a ‘dependency syndrome’ on the lead agency and may lose its independence (i.e. activities and ideas can be donor-driven).

Ultimately, it is more effective and desirable to work through local partners because it means that local capacity to implement interventions is strengthened and remains in the area of operation. This may not be the case if an international NGO implements programmes directly.


Linkage and coordination among the different DEP interventions

At the beginning of the programme, all partners attended an inception workshop. Midway through they attended a lesson-learning workshop. The evaluation found that, in areas where there was more than one implementing partner, collaboration and synergy in project activities through partner coordination and collaboration was vital. The degree of collaboration had a direct influence on the impact of interventions. The targeting of vulnerable households had to be done jointly by the agencies in order to ensure maximum outputs. In one area, for example, one partner was implementing a de-stocking programme, while another was implementing a supplementary feeding programme. If both these agencies had targeted households jointly, the net effect of the intervention would have been much higher than otherwise in terms of increased nutritional status. Collaboration between agencies requires concerted effort.


Community participation

Overall, community participation in the identification and planning of most of the DEP interventions was satisfactory in all four districts. Community participation and involvement in the identification, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of drought interventions is an important consideration, and one which influences the effectiveness and sustainability of a programme. Effective community participation and involvement increases community ownership and community contributions (both financial and in kind) and enhances the sustainability of project outputs in the long term. Furthermore, it is important to ensure that gender issues are considered in such interventions. For example, in pastoralist areas women are responsible for domestic water. An emergency intervention that seeks to improve the availability of and access to domestic water must involve women and girls in planning and design. Issues to do with the distance to the water source, providing fetching facilities such as plastic containers, ensuring that domestic water is not obtained from the same point where livestock is drinking (to avoid contamination) are all key to an intervention’s effectiveness in terms of gender and water availability and access.


Lessons learned

Programmatic lessons

  1. Supplementary and therapeutic feeding programmes must be implemented alongside general distributions.
  2. Vouchers are an excellent way of providing easily accessible and appropriate foodstuffs to vulnerable households, as opposed to general food distributions. This is because families have the flexibility to purchase food and non-food items to meet their daily needs.
  3. In order to be effective, interventions must be provided as a package (water, food, opportunities for community members to access cash), not as isolated individual interventions. If interventions are not offered as a consolidated package, the material that is offered to communities may be sold to enable people to access other items.
  4. Agencies should not shy away from experimentation, and should be innovative in delivering assistance to communities during emergencies.
  5. Conflict resolution and management must be an integral part of drought interventions; conflict escalates during an emergency situation due to the scarcity of pasture and water resources. 

Drought emergency lessons

  1. The persistence of the drought emergency in the arid districts may call for long-term safety-net programmes, irrespective of whether the rains have come or not. Such programming may enable pastoralists to recover sufficiently that they survive the next drought.
  2. Emergency activities take place within a cultural and traditional context, which must be respected and adjusted to; if not, interventions may be going against cultural norms.

Institutional lessons

  1. Contracting skilled labourers on a fixed-term basis rather than on a daily basis is more cost-effective and enables contractors to work faster because they know that, no matter how long they may take to complete a task, this does not alter what they are paid. This also applies to cash for work and food for work schemes. A certain measurable amount of work must be given a certain value.
  2. Working with local government is crucial to ensuring that project activities have the backing of local people, the local administration and the political leadership.
  3. For emergency interventions, procurement procedures should be kept very simple and purchases should be made locally by the relevant and appropriate agencies.
  4. When working through partners, it is important that all partners are inducted into the overall programme at the outset. During implementation, it is also important that lesson-learning workshops are held with all partners for peer review and information exchange on best practices.



The Horn of Africa is unique in that communities experience a complex combination of repeated drought and conflict. Agencies working in these areas need to be prepared to respond to these emergencies, even though their focus may primarily be on development. This CORDAID evaluation is useful because it highlights several points that will need to be considered by all agencies engaging in emergency work in the Horn. Issues such as targeting livestock as well as the community are important in ensuring that the livelihood of the community in general is preserved. Having close links with agencies based in these areas will be another important way of ensuring that emergency interventions are effective, since these agencies will have a good understanding of local conditions and, hopefully, of the extent of the shock that has affected the community. Implementing agencies will also need to find ways of empowering communities so that they are better prepared for drought. Finally, there is a need for greater flexibility in donor funding in order to enable agencies to engage in both relief and development work.


Mike Wekesa is Senior Consultant, Programme Design, Monitoring and Evaluation and Policy Formulation, Acacia Consultants. Irene Karani is Rural Development Consultant, Acacia Consultants. Sheila Waruhiu is Food Security Consultant, Acacia Consultants. The Acacia consultants website is at: www.acaciaconsultants.org.


References and further reading

Evaluation of the CORDAID ECHO Drought Emergency Programme in Kenya (October 2004–September 2005), November 2005.

Drought Cycle Management: A Toolkit for Drylands of the Greater Horn of Africa, Institute of Rural Reconstruction, CORDAID and Acacia Consultants, 2004.

Pastoralists Special Initiative Research Report, Acacia Consultants, Oxfam GB Kenya, Comic Relief, Resource Projects Kenya, Intermediate Technology Group Eastern Africa, Emergency Pastoralists Assistance Group, July 2005.

End of Project Report, ECHO-funded GoK/UNICEF Response to the Kenya Drought Emergency 2004–2005, November 2005.